A Tale of Two Conferences: END and WiP

By Stephen Dankowich | 1989-12-01 12:00:00

This summer I attended peace conferences in Spain and Poland, representing ACT for Disarmament.

The Spanish conference was the 8th European Nuclear Disarmament (END) Convention on the theme: "the global dimension of peace: disarmament for development." I was with three other Canadians, Bruce Allen (ACT Niagara), Paul Pasternak, and Hania Federowicz. Plenary topics were the North/ South global challenge of peace; the rearmament or disarmament of Europe; the potential for peace in the Mediterranean area; and alternative visions for a peaceful Europe in light of EEC integration by 1992. There were 8 more specific topics and some 68 workshops on specialized subjects. Participants learned about conscientious objection; peace economy; nonviolence; women as protagonists of a new ethics; civil society and initiatives from below; Central America; the Middle East; and the U.N.

But can you imagine a peace conference surrounded by armed guards? The meetings were held in a spanking new assembly hall financed by the ruling Socialist Party of Spain (PSOE). Luncheon trays were army-issue. Each day we were greeted by Basque activists from peace, ecological, anti-nuclear power, and feminists movements. Their daily demonstrations and literature tables set up outside of the Conference showed that they had not been involved in planning this event of grassroots activists. These nonviolent activists told me that the key conference organizers of the Socialist and Communist parties of Spain had excluded them. They saw peace issues as damaged by the political partyists who hijacked the conference to advance their own platforms.

That this was true was starkly revealed at the closing plenary. Conference organizers had invited two key government leaders to bring greetings as a conclusion to the Eighth END Conference. Fernando Buesa (Deputy General of Alava province) is on public record as contemptuous of the conscientious objectors (C.O.) movement of Spain. Over 200 Basque C.O.s had their trials delayed until after the 1,000 participants at the Convention had gone home. Then the 200 C.O.s would have to face prison sentences of 2-6 years. The delay in their hearings would allow PSOE's militaristic policies to avoid scrutiny until after the Convention. Buesa, I was told, did not want this delay but wanted convictions prior to the Conference. There are close to 5,000 C.O.s throughout Spain.

José Antonio Ardanza (President of the Basque country) would have been the last speaker. He is the leader of the Basque Nationalist Party, which is similar in policies to Conservative Parties everywhere. As the head of a coalition government with PSOE, he is on public record in defence of NATO.

This was all just too much for independent, grass-roots activists! Prior to the arrival of these two dignitaries, a demonstration of 500 marched to the conference site. Dozens of armed men, some undercover, positioned themselves to block their advance. Paul and I were physically shoved by these peace movement "protectors" as they tried to clear a wide path for Ardenza and Buesa to enter the Conference Hall. Then the police backed off and the 500 demonstrators surged forward in an attempt to enter the hall and prevent the two from giving greetings.

The demonstrators were all relatives of the 200 Basque C.O.s. Angry that a peace conference would give a platform to people who would imprison their children, they ripped a 14-foot high, heavily-paneled door right off its hinges! Inside, supporters unfurled a large banner announcing to the END participants that Ardenza was for NATO. Conference organizers and armed undercover police grabbed and dragged the banner away from the front of the main stage. We were among the grassroots activists who raced to defend it and hold it aloft for the duration of the closing ceremony. As the time approached for the two to speak, tension mounted. Then another banner appeared and was lifted onto the stage. The Conference was declared over, mikes were shut off, and Ardenza and Buesa never spoke.

Will this be the end of END? Everyone agreed that it was important for the END Conferences to continue for the sake of the networking and educating. But many wondered what had happened to the vision of an independent peace movement.

A Movement from Below

ACT for Disarmament had been invited to attend the annual peace conference of Poland's independent Freedom and Peace, or Wolnosc i Pokoj (WiP). The "Independent music and conversation congress, Hyde Park '89," was held from July 14-20 near the Polish town of Lubieszewo. This year's annual conference was co-sponsored with the rapidly expanding "MA" or Inter-Cities Anarchists, most of whom come from WiP.

Unfortunately, I arrived on the third day (July 16), and half of the 1500 participants were already leaving. The wide field was strewn with tents, colorful banners and flags, and a makeshift stage. Poland's counter-culture was revelling in togetherness.

Polish youth love reggae and slam-dancing to punk. Every night there was live music, interspersed with poetry and story-telling, which poked fun at the establishment's attempts to stifle dissent.

In the afternoons there were political discussions by those interested in organizing peaceful protest and resistance to East/West militarism. I was the sole North American present, but there were activists from Holland, France, and Spain. Like-minded people from Poland, Hungary, the Soviet Union, and East Germany, were planning together for the future.

The three-year-old WiP has won major concessions from the Polish state. Young men now have the option of alternative service to military conscription, thanks to WiP.

WiP activists demand the right to travel; they oppose the construction of a nuclear power plant near Gdansk at Zarnowiec. Some combat repressive abortion laws, work to popularize sexual knowledge, demand contraceptives be made available in adequate quantities, and advocate increased social help for single mothers. Other WiP activists campaign to clean up the environment and develop a Polish "green" movement. Poland, like much of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, is an ecological disaster area. The Vista River is referred to as "Chemical Soup River," and we should be soon hearing about "ecological refugees" from the coalfield areas in and around Katowice, and also from one of Europe's most beautiful cities, Krakow.

Unfortunately, WiP is going through a crisis of identity. Discussions abounded over whether it should remain a decentralized entity, freely open to all who want to work for peace, or whether to develop structures with membership cards and spokespersons.

Nevertheless, the disagreements were limited. Everyone was encouraged to protest the Czech government's life-threatening imprisonment of cultural artist and Charta 77 member, Petr Cibulka. No one foresaw that Czechoslovakia's government would be ousted by the people within months!

Dankowich is with ACT in Toronto.

Peace Magazine Dec 1989-Jan 1990

Peace Magazine Dec 1989-Jan 1990, page 18. Some rights reserved.

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